Skip to main content
11:30 am
$2.5 billion today. dubbed the witch of wall street for rough and tough demeanor and frugal lifestyle commission made her fortunes going against popular thinking of other investors. this is about half an hour. ..
11:31 am
don't have time. [laughter] and, hetty was bad. she wasn't bad about men. she was bad about money. she was consumed by money.
11:32 am
which was not sew dissimilar from the rest of her family. she was born in new bedford, massachusetts, in 1834 to a prosperous family of whaling merchants and in those days whale oil fueled the houses and factories not only here but around the world and whale parts were used for perfume, for paint, for corsets, for buggy whips and just about everything in between. so her family was extremely prosperous and they lived in what new bedford then was the most prosperous town in america. and they seemed like they embod i did -- her family embodied american values. they were rich. they were up standing citizens. her father supported abraham
11:33 am
lincoln later on and they were spiritual. they were quakers. and they had the new england values, the quaker values of thrift to the point of stinginess, particularly her father, and they believed in some policety and plain living. and to them, to the quakers, wealth was a sign of virtue, a sign of god's blessing, and so they were very blessed except that her father really wanted a son. when his first child was born it was a girl. it was hetty and he became enraged, furious, so much so that her mother took to her bed and hetty, was dismissed from the house, before she was two years old, she was sent to live with her grandfather and her spin sister aunt. what she really wanted was
11:34 am
her father's love. she knew the only way to gain it was to earn it. because her father was obsessed with money and he said so himself. her grandfather taught her to read the newspapers and the business news and the stock and bond prices in the newspapers when she was a little girl. as soon as she could read. at the age of eight she opened her own account at the savings bank in town. and then she was sent off to a quaker boarding school where again, she was taught about thrift. she was taught to eat whatever is put before her as much mush as might be, and if she didn't eat it she would be served it until it was all gone and she taught to respect poorer girls in her class. it was her tuition and
11:35 am
tuition of other rich girls that was paying for those poorer girls. in the strange way of her family, she was sent to a fancy finishing school in boston. where she was taught to dance well, to become a witty conversationalist, and she became a striking young woman. in 1854 she had her debut in new york and she came back here a few years later. nothing could outdo the flurry of excitement that hetty encountered when she returned to new york in the fall of 1860. the city shimmered with news that the prince of wales was coming to visit. in his honor, a group of leading citizens was organizing a ball. the society maintained their moustaches and clipped side hisers and women spent hours
11:36 am
twisting their curls. at 9:00 p.m., the evening of friday, october 12th, excited couples who paid $10 apiece and arrived at at can mad did i of -- academy of music. women with hoop skirts, covered with sat continues and blaze of jewels can't, aren't we special nods to acquaintances and friends. precisely at 10:00 p.m. the orchestra played, god save the queen, and the slight, small prince, stepped into the room. for two hours nearly 3,000 of new york's finest citizens rushed like schoolgirls to meet him and in a mad crush the wooden floor collapsed. never mind. the band played furiously. the prince and court were led upstairs. the guests rushed to follow
11:37 am
and livery waiters piled their plates with a lobster salad, pate, truffles and grouse and filled their glasses with champagne. at 2:00 a.m. the dance floor finally fixed, strains of a straus quadrille could be heard. eager females young or old waited their turn for a walls or polka. finally the young woman from new bedford was tapped. in her gown sashed with pink, her arms covered with long white gloves and ostrich feathers fluttering in her hands, hetty was introduced to his highnews, the prince of wales. and i am the princess of wales she replied. all of neptune's daughters are beautiful, you are proof of that, said the prince and he sailed her away on the dance floor.
11:38 am
well it wasn't the prince who courted her. it was a fellow named edward green, who was over six feet tall and over 200 pound in weight and a self-made millionaire. he asked hetty to marry him and her father agreed to it on one condition. that edward sign a prenup that they would live on edward's money, and hetty's money would be hers to protect and to increase and to pass onto the next generation. shortly after that, her father died. he left her a million dollars. the rest of his estate, five million, remember, this was 1865. $5 million he put in a trust for her, which hurt her deeply.
11:39 am
she expected to be able to control her own money. two weeks later her aunt died. hetty was the only heir to the family wealth and the aunt agreed to a which she would leave all the money, $2 million to hetty. but instead she left half to the town of new bedford and to her friends and the other half to hetty and again, she put it in trust. hetty was furious. so she sued. the lawsuit went on for years. it became a landmark case and hetty became litigious for life. shortly after that she and edward maierry and went off to england to live where he sold american railroad bonds. these were the days of the booming, boom in the railroads and he sold bonds to european investors. hetty had gave birth to two children, a son and a daughter, and she invested
11:40 am
her money in railroad bond and in greenbacks. she boasted that in one day she made $200,000. europe was booming. banks were loaning easy money at low interest rates. real estate prices were rising and, investors were buying the american bonds because they were paying high interest rates. but the prices an houses in europe became so high they had, they had reached a level where no one could afford them anymore. no one could pay those prices. so the market started falling. then they couldn't buy the bonds and they started selling them. 80% of american railroad bonds at the time were owned by europeans. one of the great american
11:41 am
railroads then went into bankruptcy and the bank that was funding it had to close. there were no more customer for the railroad bonds. hetty and edward had to come back to america and they came back to new york. the city had burr johned in the boom years. 10 story buildings stood tall on the horizon. central park was as far as as 80th street. expensive brownstone houses replaced shanties along 5th avenue. apartment houses appeared for the first time. scrivener's opened the largest bookstore in the world. the spires of st. patrick's ma jess i canly touched the sky. the metropolitan museum of art and opened so and do the museum of natural history. the exuberant spending once
11:42 am
more infected new york was no different expansion by industrial entrepreneurs, promoters, real estate speculators in the midwest and the west. by the autumn of 1873 the financial panic had pricked the bubble of hope and flattened the country into despair. does that sound familiar. new york teetered as stocks bounced up and down. on wall street, men in coats andpy ties and silk hats stunned by losses moved in a daze. only a few months before they walked briskly. the now they held on to their tall hats and worried over their jobs. even lawyers suddenly found themselves unemployed. shortly after hetty arrived she on donned dark dress and cloak, crammed her bag with stocks and bonds and rode
11:43 am
downtown to see her banker. head down, hetty made her away along the route of america's riches, past the custom house, past the granite building of the rothschilds, past the shuttered doors of the banker jay cook. at 59 wall street she enter ited the office of john cisco, the banker for herself, her father before and her husband. cisco made his services available for her wall street business. at this time, when stocks were being abandoned, hetty wanted to trade. i believe in getting in at the bottom and out at the top she often said. when i hear a good thing going cheap because nobody wants it, i buy a lot of it, and tuck it away. for hetty the decline in the market offered an
11:44 am
opportunity for the future hetty invested. her husband gambled. and at one point he crossed the red line when he used her money as collateral for bad risks. when she had to pay for his mistakes, she sent him packing. hetty was now a single working mother, with two children. at the time there were constant articles about how inferior women were, about how inept women were with money. how about innately impossible for them it was for them to invest. there were also constant articles about hetty, how she was mean. how she was micerly, about how she was a terrible mother. well in true quaker and true
11:45 am
new england style she watched her pennies, to an extreme. she lived in boarding houses, and plain apartments. she dressed in old clothes. she ate simply. but she taught her son and daughter as much as she could about business. she believed that girls should know about business and finance, at the very least, they would be better wives. but she thought she should also though about having careers, even if they didn't need one. she believed that women were the equal of any man. well, for the next 25 years, america had its ups and downs. there were booms, and then in 1893 there was a bust. and after a long recession, there was a great boom. and then in 1907 there was a great bust. and every time it happened, it was caused by greed and
11:46 am
buy ego, by overlending, and overspending. as warren buffett said recently, a climate of fear is an investor's best friend. well, hetty was brave. she was courageous. she always kept a cool head. she worked hard. she did her homework and she knew her companies. when everyone in the boat jumped over board, she climbed in and grabbed the oars. when everyone was rushing to row, she clam pered off the bode boat. it took courage. she bought when everyone was selling and sold when everyone was buying. by the time she died in 1916, she owned mortgages on 28 churches in chicago and she owned houses and office buildings, big blocks and mines in, from vermont to
11:47 am
new york, from illinois to missouri, to texas, to california. she helped out banks when times were bad, and they were in trouble. she was the largest individual lender to new york city government. she lived in the guilded age when society lived lavishly, she rebelled against their opulence. she lived a simple life. she loved her children and her friends. she was wary of those who befriended her for her money and showed her dog great affection. when she was asked why, she said because he doesn't know how rich i am [laughing] she lived her life as she deemed best. she forge ad path for women to have business careers and be mothers. and to her clever investing, she showed that women were the equal of any man.
11:48 am
at her death newspapers around the world, around the world, proclaimed her the queen of wall street, and it was known you throughout that she was the richest woman in america. so, i. there are a lots of sayings in the back of the book. her words of wisdom i think are great fun. she did have a good sense of humor and she was one smart lady. so, if you have questions, i'd love to try and answer. yes. >> do you find any evidence of her support for the women's right to vote? >> none. none. she said women should not have the right to vote. and it is interesting because i found that with a lot, many, she hugely successful women. gertrude bell which i wrote about in desert queen, did not believe in women's sufferage. margaret thatcher didn't believe in it.
11:49 am
indira gandy, didn't believe in it. they want to make their way in a man's world almost. they feel women should be doing it on their own. >> i hate to generalize but i think women are their own worst ennis for other women, because there is glass ceiling as we all know. >> right. >> when you get into a situation, where you need mentoring or help to get through a certain barrier are there. >> right. >> women like to keep it to themselves. >> yeah. yeah. >> sadly -- >> and i think they love being successful in a man's world. makes them really special. >> [inaudible]. >> yes. >> she was obviously extraordinary woman. how come we haven't heard of her? >> she was so famous in her day, there were popular songs about her. there were plays written abouter had. she was in the newspapers at least once a week.
11:50 am
and often more. she had two children as i mentioned but no grandchildren. there were no more heirs. so her name kind of disappeared. there were no buildings named after her. no great institutions that carried her name. and i think that's why it happened. but i have company across many people who had heard of her, whose parents may have said, don't be like hetty green or be like hetty green. [laughter] yes? >> what happened to her wealth? >> well, it went to her son and daughter. and then when they died it was distributed amongst hundreds of heirs because that was the original plan. if there were no more heirs it would go, be spread around the family. distant, distant cousins who didn't even know they were
11:51 am
related to her. her name, when she was born was hetty robinson. so the hollands were a big family up in new england and as were the robinsons. that is where it went. >> so her children weren't famous in any way? >> her son was quite well-known. he was, she asked him to buy a small broon much a bankrupt railroad in texas in the 1890's. and he turned it into the most successful small railroad, the texas midland railroad, in the state. then he did a number about things. he went back to new bedford to build a brand new house on the family property and turned it into a center for radio technology and meteorology. gave it to the united states government during world war ii. and, so he was, he had the, is one of the greatest
11:52 am
collection of coins and stamps. so he really made a mark to himself. yeah? >> [inaudible]. one of the things that strikes me about the guilded age and the wealth were a lot of wealthy people who believed in give back to society, particularly someone like andrew carnegie. did she donate any of her money to public service >> she never did it publicly and dismissed that she had. her son shade there were plenty of people she gave to. she never wanted it known. she was hounded for her money. she was constantly getting letters beseeching her for money. yeah, so she tried to keep it as quiet as possible. there is no proof, there is no proof. because other people said it at the time, she had a very
11:53 am
close friend whose name is ann leery who lived in the neighborhood her who was a great catholic philanthropist. she became a papal countess, i never knew about the title but that is how generous she was and i think she got hetty to give some money to the church. >> how hard was it to research? >> well it was difficult because there were no diaries, there were no journals. there was no correspondence. she didn't want any trace of her signature. she was afraid, she was accused in that lawsuit against her aunt, aunt's estate, she was accused forging her aunt's signature, and she was, so she was always afraid somebody would forge her signature. so there was very little to go on but what i did read was a gazillion newspapers. there were incidently stories about her in the papers and interviews with
11:54 am
her and interestingly enough most of the headlines were really negative but reporters who spent time with her really appreciated her, admired her, enjoyed her company. so that was rewarding to see that. stories were syndicated all over the united states and all over the world so, yes. >> how long did it take you? >> it was about five years. thank you. [applause] >> for more information visit the author's website, >> mr. mallon we're we're a nonfiction network how do
11:55 am
you write a novel about water gait? how do you approach that? >> reader will find what the gore vidal the agreed upon facts most of big ones are still intact. president nixon resigned in 1974. it is the basic timeline. not what is called alternate history the novels which the south wins the civil war, things like that happen. i think what historical fiction can do with existing history insert things in between those existing facts. things that might have happened in addition to what happened. and, try to get inside the heads of some of the peripheral players as well as some of the main players. >> who is fred larue in your novel? >> fred, unless you're a real watergate buff you're unlikely to know. fred larue was a man from mississippi, a republican operative. worked in the nixon white house. not a business card. no salary. did a let of work for attorney general john
11:56 am
mitchell t fell to him during the watergate scandal to be the man to coordinate payments to the burglars, hush-money. >> this is historical fact? >> this is historical fact. larue was a soft-spoken, intriguing man. he had a tragedy in his life when he was young. when he was in his late '20s he accidentally killed his father when they were out hunting and he was an increasing figure. and i remember thinking, he had the kind of personality i wanted to think about and explore. so he becomes a main player in the novel even though he was a relatively minor one in the scandal himself. >> is' protagonist in your novel? >> i'm not sure there is a protagonist. the book comes from seven different points of view. some big people. some of them lesser figures. president nixon, mrs. nixon is a main character. alice roosevelt longworth, who was approaching 90 at the time of the watergate
11:57 am
scandal, teddy roosevelt's daughter, still very sharp and still very humorous and witty. she is my one witch's chorus in the book with long historical memory. howard hunt, one of the burglars, whos with only person i knew actually. i knew him when i was in the magazine business. he once wrote an article for me when i was at gentleman's quarterly. i had him review norman mail letter's spy novel. harlan's ghost. he used to write spy novels and had been a spy. elliot richardson from investigative side of things and a few more, relatively minor figures. the president's secretary, rosemary woods, who like fred larue lived in watergate. a great players haed their homes are. mitch shells lived there. it wasn't just the headquarters there to be burgled. >> thomas mallon, we interviewed and spent time with david and julie nixon
11:58 am
ice hen hour at the national book festival. do they feature in the watergate novel? >> they do come and go. julie nixon was valiant defender of her father and david eisenhower of his father-in-law during the scandal. julie nixon eisenhower wrote a very good book about her mother. her mower one of the least known i think of the first lady's we've had in modern times. mrs. nixon, very private person, never heard from again after the nixons left the white house for call top. she never did interviews. she never wrote her own memoirs. mrs. nixon was somebody i tried to bring to life in the book. >> you written several historical fiction books. you've written nonfiction. you've written novels. how do you approach historical fiction. >> i always tell people who are contemplating writing it if they haven't written before, don't read too much about the period that about
11:59 am
the writing about. read more from the period. if you really want to know how people thought, how they spoke, the way their minds worked, read what actually came out of the period. in other words, eliminate the middleman. i think this is why some historians are not very fond of historical fiction because it tries to do something different. you know, historians always have to hedge their bets a little. they will have to say, well, at this point it is not unreasonable to suppose that richard nixon might have thought, et cetera, et cetera. if you're a novelist you go inside his head and have him think it. it is not history. it is more entertaining than it is educational but it's one thing i think that the genre can add to actual history. >> what is your day job? >> i teach at george washington university. i direct the creative writing problem there. >> we've been talking here with thomas mallon and here is his novel, "weight gate".

Book TV
CSPAN October 21, 2012 11:30am-12:00pm EDT

Janet Wallach Education. (2012) 'The Richest Woman In America Hetty Green In the Guilded Age.'

TOPIC FREQUENCY New York 7, America 5, New Bedford 5, Fred Larue 3, Wales 3, England 3, Mrs. Nixon 3, Julie Nixon 2, Cisco 2, Thomas Mallon 2, Europe 2, Texas 2, Robinsons 1, Rosemary Woods 1, Alice Roosevelt 1, David Eisenhower 1, Richard Nixon 1, Howard Hunt 1, Julie Nixon Eisenhower 1, Roosevelt 1
Network CSPAN
Duration 00:30:00
Scanned in San Francisco, CA, USA
Source Comcast Cable
Tuner Channel 91 (627 MHz)
Video Codec mpeg2video
Audio Cocec ac3
Pixel width 704
Pixel height 480
Sponsor Internet Archive
Audio/Visual sound, color

disc Borrow a DVD of this show
info Stream Only
Uploaded by
TV Archive
on 10/21/2012